Australia gets off lightly in 2014 global aid transparency rankings

ATI2014Australia was ranked 25th among the 68 aid providers assessed in the 2014 Aid Transparency Index, one rung lower than last year, putting it in the ‘fair’ category. Australia’s score actually improved by more than two percentage points, to 45.9 per cent, but others’ scores improved more, hence the slight drop.

The United Nations Development Programme was ranked first, followed by the UK’s Department for International Development, the US’s Millennium Challenge Corporation, GAVI and the Asian Development Bank. China, as last year, brought up the rear. New Zealand plummeted from 18th to 26th place, though the decline in its score was only 2.5 percentage points.

Australia’s overall score is a weighted composite of scores on three sets of indicators, as below, with data on each indicator collected in the period from April to June 2014.

  • The first set of indicators relates to a country’s overall commitment to aid transparency. Australia’s score held steady relative to last year at 34.9 per cent.
  • The second set of indicators relates to transparency in the publication of organisation-level information. Australia’s score improved quite a bit from 52.1 per cent last year to 66.3 per cent this year—though the Coalition government has certainly made public no more information than the previous one about its strategies, budgets and allocation policies.
  • The third set of indicators relates to transparency in the publication of activity-level information. Here Australia’s score dipped, from 41 per cent last year to 39.8 per cent in 2014, but not as much as might have been expected.

The Australia section of the report’s interactive website notes that ‘only a limited amount of project-level information that was previously available through the AusAID website can now be directly accessed via DFAT’s website’ (something we have also flagged). It comments also on the missing ‘Blue Book’ at budget time. However, it’s not clear that the sorry state of DFAT’s website during the data collection period had much, if any, impact on Australia’s overall score.

Perhaps that’s because it is still possible to find most old AusAID project documentation, unlinked yet undeleted, in nooks and crannies of the website via a search engine. Moreover, the methodology used in the compilation of the Aid Transparency Index advantages those who report a reasonable amount of information in ‘machine readable’ format to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), as AusAID did and DFAT continues to do, even if such information is not always terribly illuminating, or is already in the public domain. This appears to account for the improved score for organisation-level information this year: some additional but already-public material was published to IATI.

While the 2014 report, from our perspective, scores Australia much too generously, it does criticise Australia for its ‘unambitious’ IATI implementation schedule and urges the Australian government to establish specific timelines and delivery targets with a view to achieving full implementation of IATI’s reporting standard by the end of 2015. It calls for the inclusion of links to project documents in Australia’s IATI reporting and recommends that Australia establish an open data portal (which would sit atop the raw information in the IATI registry) for information on Australian aid.

The report also urges Australia to ensure that its Open Government Partnership (OGP) Action Plan includes a commitment to aid transparency—but the authors might not be right in assuming that the present Australian government is as committed as the former one to the OGP.

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Robin Davies

Robin Davies was appointed Head of the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in September 2017. Previously, from 2013, he was the Associate Director of the Development Policy Centre and from mid-2014, concurrently an Honorary Professor at the Crawford School at ANU.

Ashlee Betteridge

Ashlee Betteridge is the Manager at the Development Policy Centre. She was previously a Research Officer at the centre from 2013-2017. A former journalist, she holds a Master of Public Policy (Development Policy) from ANU and has development experience in Indonesia and Timor-Leste.

3 Comments

  • I don’t really understand the Aid Transparency Index scoring either Robin. What I do know is that in June 2014 DFAT commenced its quarterly reporting for all partner countries, prior to that I don’t think they covered all countries and the updating was much less frequent. They also began identifying the sector for each activity. These three changes: coverage of all countries, quarterly updates of all new transactions and sector coding have now made this information much more useful. It will be even more so when regional, multilateral and other government department funding is included. I understand that DFAT hopes to have these added over the next 12 months.

    Now that the data is being regularly published hopefully it will also be available on the DFAT website in an easy to access form. There are certainly good models on other aid agency websites that could be used (eg the UK and Canadian government aid agencies).

    Given the lack of clear links to the IATI data on the DFAT and IATI websites it took me quite a while to find the IATI datastore query page. The people at IATI tell me that they are in the process of fixing their website.

  • Robin, I agree with you that Australia appears to have gone backwards generally in its transparency around aid. This seems to be a most unfortunate situation given the Government’s intention to improve the accountability and effectiveness of the aid program.

    However in the last six months DFAT has improved the quality, coverage and timeliness of activity data reported to IATI. For the first time researchers can now obtain a fairly comprehensive and up-to-date summary of all DFAT funded activities that are allocated to a specific country. At this stage regional, multilateral and other government department funding is not included, but I am told by the ODA Statistics and Reporting Section of DFAT that this is in the works.

    Data is updated about 8-10 weeks after each quarter and is complete for that quarter with some data beyond that. The most recent data is complete to June 2014 and goes back two to three years.

    The easiest way to access this data is probably to go to http://datastore.iatistandard.org/query/index.php and select the option: one transaction per row – a transaction is a payment made for an activity. This contains all the data currently recorded for each activity with the exception of the total planned expenditure for the activity. This total expenditure can be obtained using the one activity per row option.

    I am happy to help anyone if they need a hand to get up to speed with this.

    • Thanks Garth. Though the same type of information is available from the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s Creditor Reporting System (CRS), the IATI information on individual activities accessible via the link above has the considerable virtue of much greater timeliness. CRS data are run through quite the mill, and so far extend only as far as 2012 for Australian aid activities.

      However, I am unsure how it can be the case that (a) the quality, coverage and timeliness of Australia’s activity data reporting has markedly improved in 2014, and (b) Australia’s Aid Transparency Index score for transparency in the publication of activity-level information has actually fallen a bit in 2014. As noted above, the data collection period in both years was April to June. I assume there was not a sudden improvement from July 2014. Something needs explaining here: either the data were actually about as good in 2013 as they were in 2014, or the Aid Transparency Index was unfair to Australia.

      A further observation is that the pointer to activity-level data which you provide above is nowhere provided on DFAT’s website. At present, with a little persistence, you can find your way to this page about aid statistics on which it is stated only that ‘Australia reports annually its development assistance to the DAC … This includes statistical information at the activity level, which can be accessed through the DAC’s website’. There follows a link, not to the CRS, but to the DAC’s general website. Elsewhere on the DFAT website you can read that Australia will ‘fully participate’ in IATI, and you get a link to the IATI website but not directly to the IATI Datastore — and the link to the Datastore on the IATI website is, today at least, broken. Clearly DFAT’s website should prominently display a direct link to it, or some similar portal which processes and displays IATI registry data.

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